I didn't think I would have any future - but olaparib gave me hope

1st March 2023

Fiona and her husband looked forward to retiring together and often talked about their plans. But out of nowhere Fiona was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, and their lives were turned completely upside down.

I live with my husband in a lovely village in south Perthshire. We love to go walking together, visit family and friends across the country and, when we can, travel further afield. Another passion of mine is singing – I sing in a local choir and my secret ambition is to perform at an Edinburgh jazz club one day!

I worked in the NHS for forty very rewarding years in a huge variety of different roles – as a nurse, a midwife, a health visitor, an occupational health nurse, a researcher, and finally a further education lecturer. I didn’t intend on retiring for at least another four or five years, but sadly I had to take ill-health early retirement when I became unwell. It was a very strange way to finish my career.

"I was on annual leave when I had the appointment that changed everything."

I had been experiencing some nagging symptoms, but I was convinced that it would all be down to something very minor that could be easily dealt with – so convinced that I had postponed my appointment for a week, because of our holiday plans.

But as soon as I saw the gynaecologist, I knew she suspected something much more serious. A whirlwind of tests followed – an internal ultrasound, blood tests and then a CT scan. My husband and I tried to fill the time waiting for the results by visiting local areas and going for long walks, but my overwhelming memory is of being full of anxiety.

"Soon it was confirmed – I had ovarian cancer. Then, not long after, a biopsy revealed the cancer was advanced. It was devastating to get that news and we were both so scared."

All I could think about was of my experience working in gynaecology and of the people I had met on the ward. I knew all too well how few treatments had been available for ovarian cancer for such a long time, and I had seen far too many patients sent home with the unthinkable knowledge that there were no options left. It was always absolutely devastating to see them leave, knowing that there was nothing more that could be done for them.

And now I was facing that same dread and uncertainty. It felt impossible to make any plans for the future because I was convinced that it was a future I wouldn’t be here for.

I was booked in for surgery just two weeks after the biopsy results, which was a scary prospect as the operation was a major one. Then, after I recovered, I started six months of chemotherapy.

I coped with it quite well and remained as positive as I could, but I found it quite traumatic to lose my hair – I’m a redhead, so it was such a big part of my identity.

Still, I remember smiling as I entered the chemotherapy unit, as I was so glad to be starting more treatment that would hopefully knock out the cancer cells.

"Seven weeks after I had completed my chemotherapy, I began taking olaparib."

Olaparib was developed thanks to pioneering research made possible by people just like you.

I was considered a good fit for olaparib as it had been determined that I had the BRCA2 mutation – something that surprised me at the time, as I had no history of breast or ovarian cancer in my family. I remember my oncologist explaining that a clinical trial had very recently shown significant benefits of treatment with olaparib in patients with advanced ovarian cancer.

It does make me feel very lucky in a way, that my diagnosis happened when it did – after this clinical trial had taken place and olaparib had been approved for use by the NHS. Sadly, I know that for many people, this wasn’t the case.

Prior to the development of olaparib and other drugs like it, there had been no real change in the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer for decades, and the outlook was grim for most patients.

"But olaparib was a complete game-changer. It’s been revolutionary for the treatment of ovarian cancer."

I have done well on olaparib and incredibly I have now reached a stage where most of the time I can put cancer to the back of my mind. I turned 60 recently and my husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. It’s difficult to put into words how extremely grateful I am that I now feel like I have a future.

So many people were involved in the development of olaparib, from Professor Steve Jackson and all the scientists carrying out the research, to the Curestarters like you who helped fund it. To every single person, I would like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have given me more time to live my life, with the people I love – and given me hope for the future.

If you can, please consider donating to Worldwide Cancer Research today. It's only by funding more ground-breaking cancer research like the project that kick-started olaparib that we will be able to develop more revolutionary drugs – for all cancer types.


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